Cyberspace balkanisation and the future of metaverse geopolitics

Posted by Flux on 

3 March 2021

Geopolitics is moving into the metaverse.

Governments are realising that the future of international diplomacy is shifting to the virtual and digital realms, as much as the physical sphere.

Leaders have understood that control of the medium (in this case both the global information infrastructure and the large, international platforms through which we access the internet) is control of the message – and, increasingly, control of national security.

Furthermore, the realisation has dawned that the powerful technologies that connect our contemporary lives are effectively borderless, or at least not neatly tied to terrestrial border lines. As such any attempts to master military, political, or narrative control of the metaverse (and the hardware and software that support it) will require international cooperation. Either that, or a retreat into a fragmented closed “splinternet”. Digital isolation in the global internet era is, however, an economic own goal, as strategic international cooperation is a priority for foresighted nations and leaders.

In response, new national and regional lines are being drawn and alliances are being made to protect national interests in cyberspace. 

The Digital Silk Road vs the Alliance of Techno Democracies 

In the US, the Biden administration is working on developing an “alliance of techno democracies” to push back against China’s 2015 “Digital Silk Road” plans for internet hardware and software dominance and the implicit and explicit ideology embedded in these plans. The Digital Silk Road forms part of Beijing’s greater Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which encompasses a broad strategy to increase China’s, real world and digital, economic and political power and influence in the international arena. 

Biden’s new efforts to develop an alliance of techno democracies to resist China’s dominance of nascent technological infrastructure and innovation, follows on from a series of similar calls for more strategic international cooperation around emerging global technology issues.  The UK, for example, has previously proposed the formation of an international “Democracy 10” alliance made up of representatives of the world’s 10 largest democracies to tackle the geopolitical, economic and military threats 5G and other powerful emerging technologies pose to global democracy and liberal values. Likewise, the EU’s proposal for the WEF’s Davos Agenda in 2021 that nations adopt a common set of internet standards and values is not unrelated to the growing concern about more cross-border cooperation in the digital realm.

Looking ahead, as new cross-border alliances are formed and new virtual lines are drawn around control and influence of the hardware and software infrastructure that holds our world together, companies as well as countries need to think carefully about where their loyalties (and their profits) lie.

By Bronwyn Williams

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